The Non-Scandal Of MPs’ Expenses


Earlier this month, a “scandal” broken by the Daily Telegraph newspaper ran and ran, and at the time of writing looks like continuing to run for the foreseeable future. This was the almost universal practice among MPs at Westminster of feathering their nests with claims for expenses. The outrage generated amongst the general public which resulted in calls for reform, resignations and prosecutions, was and is undoubtedly genuine, especially in view of the then current “credit crunch”, but a rational appraisal in the light of the known facts suggests that most of this outrage is misplaced.

Let me say at the outset that it is not my intention to excuse blatant fraud; at the time of writing, there do appear to be a handful of cases where the expenses claimed were truly outrageous. What I want is to put this “scandal” into its proper perspective.

In the first place, there is a general acceptance that the reason this system of expenses came into being is because MPs warranted a pay rise, but it was not considered politic to give them one, so as they entered Parliament they were taken aside one by one and told this is the way it’s done, you can claim for this, for that, and the other, and more fool you if you don’t. In other words, padded expenses were considered a perk of the job.

As Gerald Mars pointed out in his ground-breaking book Cheats At Work, all employees condemn such perks as cheating, dishonesty and outright fraud – when carried out by others – while at the same time rationalising and explaining away their own workplace “fiddles” (for want of a better word) as an exception to the rule.

Of course, the mere fact that “everybody else” does it does not excuse MPs, indeed MPs and politicians in general can and should be held to higher standards than the rest of us, along with police officers, judges, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and sundry other professions and public figures. It has to be said though that as at least one politician pointed out, for journalists to rant and rail against the abuse of expenses is largely a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

The fact that the system was created by MPs has also led to deserved criticism, but who else was supposed to create it? And the simple fact is that provincial MPs need to travel long distances to the capital, and need some sort of accommodation while working there. One solution to the accommodation problem would be for the government to lease or even purchase a small hotel or apartment block and reserve it solely for the use of MPs and civil servants, but it is a bit late in the day for this.

Another claim – or innuendo – is that while most MPs have acted within the letter of the law they have not acted within the spirit of it. This will not wash. If the speed limit is 50mph and they all drive at 49mph are they acting against the spirit of the law?

On the face of it, the most outrageous claim was by the Tory MP (of course) who billed the taxpayer some three hundred and eighty pounds for horse manure. [There is an obvious joke here, but this is a family show].

But what about Peter Mandelson – the much reviled Prince of Darkness: £3,564.63 since July 2004; this works out to around sixty pounds per month, [from the Guardian, May 8, 2009]. Not exactly demonic, is it?

My own MP, Jacqui Lait, has come in for particular excoriation, but in March of this year she submitted a proposal to the Treasury – on her own initiative – which if augmented, would have saved millions, tens of millions or perhaps even hundreds of millions in card fraud. The response from that august body can be found here.

The total claimed by 646 MPs from all parties for 2007-08 has been estimated at a shade under £93 million, while according to the UK Independence Party, this country subsidises the European Parliament to the tune of forty million pounds EVERY SINGLE DAY. We are then talking about very small beer indeed, and if we don’t like our particular MP or government we can at least vote them out now and again, something we can’t do to our European masters.

And when one considers the enormous sums wasted on parasites like Sir Fred Goodwin and other bankers and financial wheeler dealers who not only bring no benefit to the economy but are actually a drain on it, such figures pale into insignificance.

Finally, and the truly big one – the raison d’être of this website – the vast majority of government spending comes from taxation and borrowing. Taxation, as the late Chris Tame said loud and often, is theft, while borrowing credit at interest, credit which is created ex nihilo, is the biggest con in history.

Instead of mumbling apologies and promising to hold his own MPs to account – and calling for a General Election of course, David (style over substance) Cameron would do better to call for a root and branch reform of the debt-based money system, but of course if he did that, he would have as much chance of becoming Prime Minister at the next – or any election – as Nick Griffin.

May 18, 2009

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